The general mood in the United States has grown increasingly intolerant towards Muslims. Charlotte Wiedemann was in New York and spoke with Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, Afro-American and President of the Islamic Leadership Council, on the mood in this election year and about his criticism of some Muslims for what he sees as opportunism
Imam, you stood on the street with a sign that said “Muslims demand equal rights!” Against what were you directing your protest?
Talib Abdur-Rashid: The surveillance of Muslim communities, mosques, meeting places, and student groups is a grave violation of the American constitution. Under the pretext of security, the New York police and their “Intelligence Division” have assumed the right to snoop around wherever they like. We will not put up with this. The matter must be decided by the courts.
Opinion polls indicate that almost every other American holds a negative view of Islam. And every third Republican supporter calls Barack Obama a Muslim, here synonymous with being un-American. Is religious tolerance in the USA a thing of the past?
Rashid: The atmosphere today is even more negative for Muslims than after the September 2001 terrorist attacks. We were all traumatized by 9/11, but back then there were efforts to support each other as Americans and not to fall into the trap of a collective guilt mindset. Today, the Republicans and, in particular, the Tea Party, have made Islamophobia an integral part of their political platform. They utilize fears, traumas, and a lack of knowledge to further their political aims. We have observed in recent times that there is a rise in anti-Islamic emotions during every election year. This was the situation at the time of Obama’s election and equally the case in local elections in New York two years ago.
The President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, called for more religious tolerance towards Islam in Germany. Graumann argued it was wrong to treat all Muslims as members of a suspect community, as the large majority was living peacefully with people of different faiths. According to Graumann, the idea of a Christian Church as the centre of a local community had to be adjusted to the current situation – the centre of a local community may very well be a mosque.
America’s reputation for religious tolerance and decency has taken a terrible hit with this brouhaha over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero. It is a self-inflicted wound, aided in no small part by the Tea Party and the fear-mongers at Fox News who never miss an opportunity to summon the darker aspects of our nature for political purposes. All this in the name of a higher patriotism, of course.
A Muslim woman requested an Islamic divorce on the grounds that her husband physically and emotionally abused her, and told her that he wanted her dead. Her husband was opposed to the divorce, and when an Islamic scholar adjudicating the case seemed opposed to the divorce, the wife brought in her father as a “secret weapon.” The judge reversed his position and promptly recommended divorce.
The case is paradigmatic of the limits and ways that religious tolerance, Shariah law, and the pre-eminence of British law are applied to everyday cases across the country. Critics and proponents of allowing a space for Shariah courts and decisions in Britain cite this case as an example of the larger debate of when, how, and why Shariah can be applied in Britain.
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Germany’s opposition Green party said female police officers should be allowed to wear the Islamic headscarf, citing England and Sweden as examples of religious tolerance towards their public sector workers.